Earlier this year we had the opportunity to run the Steyr Pro THB cambered in .308 through our full battery of tests to see how it did as a tactical rifle. The end results were not bad at all. During that review we wondered if the Pro THB might make a good replacement for the revolutionary SSG-69 PI (that is a roman numeral one at the end) and then wondered if the newer 6.5 CM version, which hadn’t been released at the time, might be an even better replacement with its longer barrel. That brings us to this test. We brought in the new Steyr Pro THB 6.5 Creedmoor to run through our same review process and then to also see if it indeed might be the desired successor to the SSG-69 PI. Keep in mind the PI was revolutionary because of the synthetic stock on a rifle built in the 1960s, but it was endeared because of its smooth handling, light weight, and excellent accuracy. That is what we will be looking for with this THB CM review. The PI also had its well documented flaws as well, so we will be looking to see if perhaps those are still a problem or if they have been eliminated through evolution.
Visually the first things that stick out about the Creedmoor (CM) version of the Pro THB versus the standard Pro THB, and that also draws parallels to the PI, is the green colored stock and its longer barrel. The standard Pro THB has a black stock and it does not have the ventilation cutouts on the bottom of the forearm like this one does. Beyond those two difference the stock is the same between the two rifles.
There is the Steyr adjustable spacer system at the butt end of the stock, which also incorporates a padded recoil pad on the final spacer piece. Having the flexibility of an adjustable stock is certainly a benefit for a precision rifle and it is even better when the system is solid and will not move, as the spacer system does. The comb of the stock is flat without any rise to it, but the entire buttstock is elevated somewhat to help get the eye in line with the optics on the rifle. If more rise is needed, which will be likely with large objective lens scopes, then a strap on cheekpiece, or add on cheekpiece such as the Karsten, would need to be used.
There is a sling swivel stud mounted on the buttstock as well and then there is a nicely contoured pistol grip with a sculpted recessed area for the thumb to lay along the stock. The pistol grip is one area where the Pro THB veers away from a true dedicated tactical stock design in that the pistol grip is angled back and is not vertical in nature. It is still comfortable, though it extends the reach of the trigger finger and may be slightly awkward for short fingered shooters.
The triggerguard, like on the standard THB, is a molded in part of the stock, though it is oversized slightly and provides a good amount of room for use with gloved hands. Because of the higher than standard buttstock, the bottom angle of the butt is steep and might look a little different than other stocks, but it is quiet functional.
On the rear tang of the rifle we find what is now the familiar rotating safety mechanism of the Pro THB design. When the rotating dial is all the way forward, a red dot is exposed (see picture above) and the rifle is ready to fire. If the bolt is cocked, you can rotate the dial back one notch and a white dot appears indicating the rifle is on safe, yet the bolt can still be cycled. Finally, if you rotate the dial back one more notch, a plastic protrusion extends up and keeps the dial from rotating back forward unless you press that protrusion down and then rotate past it. This is also a safe condition for the rifle and one of two additional things happens. If the bolt is closed, it will lock the bolt in place, preventing it from being cycled. If the bolt is open, it operates as a bolt release and the bolt can then be pulled directly back and free of the rifle. It is a unique safety design, and it works well. It is easy to place the rifle on fire, or safe, with just a slight movement from the firing hand thumb. It should be noted that the stock is ambidextrous and can be fired right or left handed.
The trigger is a Steyr factory two stage trigger that has excellent feel and a light pull. The first stage is a very light with our gauge measuring it at 9 ounces and the second and final stage of the trigger breaks clean at 3 pounds 7 ounces (3.44 lbs). The shoe is a thinner shoe without a lot of curve and is smooth. The trigger is also adjustable for weight of pull. For a factory trigger, it is very nice and we give it good marks.
Just in front of the molded in trigger guard is the Detachable Box Magazine (DBM) with its pinch style release. The standard magazine holds four rounds but the magazine well extension kit to house the 10 round magazines is available for purchase from Steyr or their authorized dealers (we can get them for you if needed). The magazines are simple and functional and appear to be more durable than the original rotary magazines from the SSG-69 series of rifles. The mags can be loaded by simply pushing a round straight down on the top of the mag, making loading at lot easier and quicker than the standard AICS mags.
The Pro THB CM rifles are available with either a large round bolt knob, like our rifle here, or the butterknife handle knob like is found on some of the traditional Steyr rifles including the PI. When we placed the order for our rifle they didn’t give us the option, but we were pleased to see it arrived with the larger round knob, though either one is very nice. The large round knob is coated with a hard protective coating that is also blasted for a matte and rough surface to help with good gripping.
The large diameter bolt body allows for smooth operation and cycling within the closed port designed action. There is minimal side to side bolt movement, or slop, even when the bolt is pulled all the way to the rear. It is a two lug design so the bolt rotation is the traditional 90 degree design. There is a nice M-16 style extractor on the bolt which provides very good extraction and the plunger style ejector insures the brass is ejected cleanly from the action.
The shroud at the rear of the bolt is large, but rounded nicely and with a hole where a protrusion extends to indicated if the bolt is cocked or not. As indicated, the action is mostly closed with just a small ejection port on the right side of the action. This leaves plenty of metal as a part of the action to insure it is stiff and strong. The ejection port is even smaller than the PI design. The rifles also come with a 20 MOA Picatinny rail mounted which makes scope mounting very easy. There is a longer rail available from Steyr as well.
The stock remains thin and more sporter like than most tactical rifles and the front forearm area does indeed have ventilation slots cut into it, but frankly, we don’t think they do very much and may be more for aesthetics or distinction than anything. Those ventilation slots do not extend all the way through the stock and they do not go up into the barrel channel to allow air to cool the barrel. We suppose it might save an ounce or two of weight though. The barrel is free floated the entire length, unfortunately the stock is an injection molded style stock and it lacks in rigidity. The stock is easily displaced and flexed to the point where it touches the barrel. This can happen with just the rifle resting on the bipod mounted to the front sling swivel stud. This is a disappointment for a $1500 rifle and it will not help accuracy any with the stock sometimes touching the barrel, and sometimes not.
Speaking of the barrel, it is longer on the CM version of the Pro THB than on the non CM version. The 25″ length is longer than most 308 tactical rifles these days, but it does allow the 6.5 Creedmoor to reach higher velocities to tap into its excellent long range potential. It is interesting to note that it is the same length as the PI barrels. As is common on the Steyr rifles, the barrels are cold hammer forged and Steyr leaves the spiral forging marks on the barrel as kind of an identifying feature on their rifles. Some like it, some don’t care. Like the standard THB rifles, the barrel is threaded from the factory with 5/8″-24 tpi for use with a suppressors or even a muzzle brake. A protective cap, with serrations on it for positive grip, is included.
As is common with just about all modern rifles, the crown on the barrel is recessed to protect it. The barrel contour is the same as the standard Pro THB but it has the extra length to it. As we discovered in the THB review, the contour profile appears to be nearly identical to the one used on the original SSG-69 PI. It is a Palma style contour that tapers down very quickly and then remains nearly the same thickness the rest of the way to the muzzle. It is a good compromise profile, providing extra rigidity while keeping the weight down. Unlike the PI rifles, the Pro THB CM does not have any auxiliary sights, which today is almost non existent among sniper rifles. The medium-heavy contour barrel keeps weight down and allows the rifle to handle similar to the handy PI, one of its endearing qualities.
The rate of twist is 1:8″ which seems to be the standard for the 6.5 Creedmoor and it will be able to handle anything from the light 100gr bullets up to the heavier 140-150 grain bullets. All of the metal work on the rifle is finished in the Steyr Mannox matte black finish that provides corrosion protection as well as a matte finish. The finish has an uneven appearance on several parts of the rifle, specifically the left hand side of the action, which you can see in some of the pictures. The rifle with its combined green stock and matte finish with heavy barrel has the sniper look to it, though the plastic stock has a somewhat cheap look and feel. The list price is a bit higher than the standard Pro THB at $1595, which incidentally is right at where the SSG-69 PI was selling for at the end of its run.
As can be seen in the picture above, there are some family resemblances between the two rifles, but there are also a lot of differences as well. While the Pro THB CM seems to come from the same family and tries to fill the same role, the rifles are from different generations and there have been a lot of changes over the years to rifle technology and manufacturing techniques. The barrels are the same length and while the THB CM is relatively light at 9.3 lbs (no optics), it still is half a pound heavier than the lean PI. Some of that weight is in the stock and probably the included picatinny rail, the rest is in the details.
The one impressive thing about the PI rifles is that even though the design is from the 1960s, they always shot well, as we discovered in our own tests. So we expected that the Pro THB CM would also perform well and in order to find out, it was time to run the rifle through our normal shooting tests. We mounted up one of our Leupold test scopes, a Vari-X III 6.5-20x50mm with target knobs, using a set of Nightforce Extreme Duty 30mm rings and then headed out to the range with four different types of 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition. The ammo we selected for our testing was the Hornady 140gr ELD Match, Federal 130gr Gold Medal Berger, Winchester 140gr Match, and American Eagle 120gr Open Tip Match. The weather for our accuracy tests was a normal Montana summer morning, 60 degrees and sunny, but unusually there was some 6-10 mph winds.
If you are not familiar with how we test rifles, please take a minute to read our article How We Test Rifles and Scopes. Our 100 yard test results came in as follows:
|Ammo||Average Group||Best Group|
|Federal Gold Medal Berger 130gr||0.694″ (0.663 MOA)||0.526″ (0.502 MOA)|
|Hornady 140gr ELD MAtch||0.561″ (0.536 MOA)||0.301″ (0.287 MOA)|
|Winchester 140gr HPBT Match||0.780″ (0.745 MOA)||0.569″ (0.543 MOA)|
|American Eagle 120gr OTM||0.845″ (0.807 MOA)||0.489″ (0.467 MOA)|
All of the ammunition we tested through this Steyr averaged well under 1 MOA and the Hornady 140gr ELD out shined the rest with a very low average group size, just over .5 MOA, as well as the small group size of the day (.287 MOA). The recoil, even without a muzzlebrake, was mild though the shape of the comb where your cheek rests is thin and did not provide a very comfortable position and it made itself known when shooting as you could feel it pretty good. A strap on cheekpad may be advisable, which in our case we would need anyway as the comb was not high enough for perfect eye alignment with the scope and some extra height would be desired. The trigger finger had a longer reach than normal but we were still able to do fine with trigger manipulation, especially once the long and light first stage of the trigger is taken up.
The magazine loads very easy, both the rounds into the magazine as well as the magazine into the magwell. It snaps into the well easily and removes very easy. We had no real complaints about the DBM setup, provided the magazines hold up to hard use, which the old SSG-69 mags did not. The rifle fed from the magazine very well and smooth, which it needs to since you cannot single feed the rifle by just placing a cartridge into the open action and then close the bolt. The round will not feed into the chamber unless it is taken from the magazine. But the action itself is very smooth to cycle and does so reliably.
The lighter medium weight barrel does heat up more quickly than a larger heavy barrel, but we did not notice any degradation of accuracy or shift in point of impact once the barrel was heated up. We did notice that on the Winchester 140gr and Federal Gold Medal Berger 130gr ammo that bolt was slightly stiff when dropping it on the round. This indicates a fairly tight chamber which would help contribute to the good accuracy. At the 300 yard head shot test, the rifle did not do bad either. We selected the Hornady 140gr ELD Match load because it performed the best at the 100 yard accuracy test and we dialed in +4.5 MOA. The thing that is a constant struggle with this test is to slow down and focus on accuracy. Because it is timed, there is an additional pressure to get the three rounds off quick and that usually causes the shooter to rush the shots, hurting accuracy. Firing the rifle rapid fire from the prone position illustrated the smoothness of the action, but also that the recoil pad didn’t fit perfect in the shoulder. We still rattled off the three rounds in only 19 seconds, but we admittedly rushed the shots and the group opened up as a result.
|300y Head Target Test|
|Time Score (19 secs)||50.5|
|Accuracy Score (1.229 moa)||48.8|
The group size measured 3.861″ (1.229 MOA) which is just over our standard of 1 MOA, which hurt the total score in the 300 yard leaderboard. The overall score of 99.3 brought the rifle almost exactly in at the benchmark of 100, and was just slightly ahead of the standard Pro THB. We know the rifle is capable of more, but the point of the test is to do it under stress when on the line, so we abide by the score.
So is the rifle a worthy SSG-PI replacement? You know how nostalgia goes, we always remember it as being better than it likely was. Personally, I still would prefer the SSG-69 PI, but I also have to admit that the newer rifle has some distinct advantages and improvements. Accuracy is about the same, bolt operation and smoothness is probably better in the new rifle, the stock on the old rifle is preferred, even though it is old style fiberglass. The accessory rail and other tactical features on the SSG-69 were tailored for tactical use, the THB CM is taking a hunting rifle and adapting it to tactical use. In reality, the rifle offers very similar performance and capability and for about the same price. The 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge enhances long range performance over the .308 which expands the capability, making the rifle an acceptable choice for the budget. Though, if Steyr were to put a legitimate tactical stock on the rifle, they could have an even better alternative in a price point that is little served by rifles on the market today.
This rifle has become a permanent part of our collection as one of our test rifles for our upcoming 6.5 Creedmoor Match Ammo comparison tests. So we will be able to follow its continue performance over a longer time period. Stay tuned.
Sniper Central 2018
300y head test
worthy PI replacement?